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Friendship House Christmas brunch provides holiday cheer to area’s homeless

December 27, 2018
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Friends Daniel Silva (left), 55, and Mark Casebeer, 61, enjoy brunch together Tuesday at the Friendship House Café in Mount Vernon. Silva is a Friendship House resident. Casebeer is homeless and said he spent the night in his sleeping bag nearby.

MOUNT VERNON — At a Christmas brunch Tuesday at the Friendship House Café, patrons and volunteers gathered to share a meal

Just as it does every day, the café provided a free meal to the homeless and residents of its shelter next door.

Libby Riley, one of the volunteer servers, said she and her daughter have been staying at Friendship House for about two months. Before that, the two were living on the street.

“We were here (at the café) three meals a day,” she said.

She said she’s thankful for a safe place to sleep, and is happy to help give back.

On Christmas Eve, she and a group of residents from Friendship House’s women’s shelter put together baskets of gloves and hats and handed them out to homeless people in downtown Mount Vernon.

“It was the best Christmas Eve I’ve ever had,” she said.

Turnout this year was much lower than it’s been in years past, something Riley said she attributes to the removal in August of daily breakfast and lunch from the café’s menu — a change made in response to neighborhood concerns about the negative effects of the city’s growing homeless population on the area.

“I have a lot of friends on the street who are losing weight,” she said.

Louis Yaw, who’s been living on the street for years, said he’s had a harder time getting by on one meal at the café.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “I’ve had to beg a lot more, I guess.”

He said he was hopeful that 2019 would bring him a reliable place to stay and take regular showers.

“To be able to wake up and put on a dry pair of socks, it’s nice,” he said. “For the homeless, it isn’t always like that.”

Daniel Silva, another shelter resident and kitchen volunteer, said this Christmas he was celebrating being sober.

“This is my two-month sobriety date,” he said. “I feel pretty positive this year.”

Silva said he recently completed an inpatient alcohol detox program with Pioneer Center North, and hopes to be an example of success for other Friendship House residents.

“Stay positive, stay in a program and good things will happen,” he said.

For next year, his hope is that he’ll find permanent housing.

Ronnie Lumpkin, a former pipefitter and recent transplant to Mount Vernon, was less optimistic.

“They’ve got to stop taking away our rights, and calling them privileges,” he said.

He said the city and its property owners make it far too hard for homeless people to get water or use the bathroom, punishing them for just trying to live.

“All I ask is to treat these people fairly,” he said.

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